After two decades in Baltimore, the NAACP is set to relocate to the nation's capital.
Bruce S. Gordon, president and chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said last night that the organization is in final negotiations with Washington officials and a developer to move its headquarters from Northwest Baltimore to an office and retail site under construction in Southeast Washington's historic Anacostia district.
"Washington is where we do our work," Gordon said in an interview. "We want to be the most effective organization we can be. We need to be more productive in what we do, and we need to interface with the people who will help us focus on national and local policy. This is the nation's capital."
Washington officials have offered the NAACP $3.5 million in grants to move to the complex, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue S.E., in an economically depressed area that has been the target of recent city redevelopment efforts. The Washington City Council is scheduled to vote on the grants at a meeting today, and officials said last night that they expect the package to be approved.
The NAACP and developer Anacostia Gateway LLC are negotiating final details. The project would need final approval from the NAACP's 64-member national board, which is expected to vote at its annual meeting in New York in February.
Gordon said the nation's oldest civil rights organization has a tentative agreement with a buyer for its 50,000-square-foot headquarters at Mount Hope Drive, but declined to provide details. In 1986, the NAACP moved there from New York after receiving more than $1.1 million in state and federal grants.
Construction of the Washington site - which includes a retail and office complex of more than 200,000 square feet - is scheduled for completion next fall, said Michael Hodge, chief operating officer for Washington's deputy mayor for planning and development.
Washington officials expressed excitement and optimism over the deal, saying the NAACP's move would benefit the civil rights group and be a boon to a neighborhood hoping to capitalize on its rich black history.
"There is no more appropriate place for the NAACP headquarters than Washington, D.C.," Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday in a statement. "I am eager to help NAACP officials accomplish this move, and I look forward to working with them as they make our city their home.
Hodge said the NAACP headquarters would be part of "the most significant non-downtown office development in the city."
"We think there is no more appropriate location for the national association with its mission," he said. "First and foremost, it's in the nation's capital and in an area that can help catalyze development, which is part of their mission - to uplift the lives of people historically disadvantaged."
"It's our community; it's a community in development," he said. "We are sending, I think, a very positive message to the people of Anacostia, that we want to be there with them."
In Maryland, news of the impending move was met with disappointment from Baltimore and state officials who were fighting to keep the NAACP, which employs about 115 people at its headquarters.
"It's unfortunate," said City Council President Sheila Dixon, who will become mayor next month. But Baltimore should be proud that it provided a home to "what many consider the legal voice of the African-American community" while it was stabilizing itself as an organization, Dixon said.
She said Baltimore also can claim the distinction of having raised the NAACP's spiritual leader and civil rights icon, Thurgood Marshall.
"I'm disappointed by the decision, but we will continue to support a mobile organization," she said. "I can understand the importance of being closer to Washington."
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond has made no secret of his determination to move the 97-year-old civil rights group to Washington, earlier this year calling the nation's capital "the center of the universe in which we work."
Bond made public his push for a relocation in May, sparking a series of discussions between NAACP officials and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
O'Malley, who has said that losing the NAACP headquarters would be a blow to city residents, negotiated with Gordon in June in an effort to persuade the organization to remain in Baltimore.
Though the NAACP's move to Baltimore in 1986 was somewhat controversial among the group's leaders, city politicians were thrilled to have the organization, welcoming it with much fanfare and a city parade.
In August, Ehrlich lobbied Gordon to keep the NAACP in Maryland - but close to Washington - when he pitched the $2 billion office and hotel complex known as National Harbor being developed along the Potomac River in Prince George's County.
Gordon and Bond have said that they would consider offers to remain in Maryland but have continually emphasized their desire to move to the center of government power and activism.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said yesterday that the governor respects the organization's wish to be close to the nation's capital but the administration "will remain in contact with them in hopes of keeping them in Maryland until we are told otherwise."
City Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, who is expected to become the council's president next month, said the NAACP's likely departure is not a surprise.
"Everyone wished it were not so. It is disappointing. It will be a great loss to the city," she said.
"At the end of the day, I hope that the important work of the NAACP gets done wherever the headquarters are."
Sun reporters Doug Donovan, Andrew A. Green and John Fritze contributed to this article.